The best paper for coloured pencils should be thick and have a slight ‘tooth’. Artist grade coloured pencils are soft and often made with oil or wax binders. This means that they lend themselves to techniques like layering and blending, which can give realistic effects.
With artist grade coloured pencils, like the Faber-Castell Polychromos, you can draw on a number of surfaces—you don’t just have to stick to paper!
In this guide I’ll walk you through the best paper for coloured pencils to get smooth, realistic looking results. I’ll also show you some other surfaces you can use with pencil, like wooden panel.
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Best paper for coloured pencils: characteristics
A thicker surface allows for colours to be built up and layered more effectively. The ‘tooth’ of the surface refers to its grain or texture. Optimally, coloured pencil surfaces will be fine grain but sanded, as this allows for better adhesion of the pencil layers.
You can of course use smooth paper with coloured pencil. Hot pressed, smooth or plate are all words to describe a surface with a less prominent grain.
Coloured pencil on ultra smooth paper will appear soft and solid, as the paper’s texture won’t be visible beneath. However, smooth paper limits the artist’s ability to create multiple layers. If you want to create a quick sketch, with a smooth appearance, then a plate texture paper would do the job.
By choosing a toothy surface, you can gradually build layers, starting with light applications of pencil, then building up the thickness of application. After multiple layers, you will find yourself applying more pressure to achieve smooth blends, this is called burnishing. To get that realistic look that is emblematic of the artists’ colour pencil medium, techniques like layering and burnishing should be used on a toothy surface. This is what professional colour pencil artists use to achieve photorealism, that often makes people question whether their work is a painting or a drawing.
There are other characteristics to look out for too. Paper should be thick; the weight of paper is measured in gsm, a weight of 190gsm or higher would be adequate.
Really though, the thicker the better. If you anticipate you’ll be using mediums with your colour pencils, like solvent or pencil blender, I would advise getting paper over 300gsm. You can get papers above 400gsm, which are thicker than card and the most durable.
The best paper for coloured pencils used by professional artists is always be acid-free. This makes paper archival quality. Acid in papers break down fibres over time (this is why book pages yellow). An acid-free paper will stay stable over time, meaning you can keep, hang and sell your artworks without worry about the quality changing.
So now you know what to look out for, let’s take a look at some of the best options available to artists.
Best paper for coloured pencils: review
Canson Mi-Teintes Touch Pastel Paper
Attributes: soft sanded texture, nice colour range
This paper is one of the most popular for coloured pencil drawing. It’s smooth, with a toothy, lightly sanded surface.
There are a range of different colours available, including white, cream and other muted tones. Working on toned paper can bring benefits to your drawing practice, as it helps artists determine colour values more easily.
This paper is heavy weight (350gsm) and sturdy, like card. It can take multiple pigment layers—colours will adhere perfectly to the surface. Use this paper with soft pastels, wax pastel pencils or oil pencils.
Build colour layers, blend and burnish as you please with this paper. Colours will appear smooth and vibrant, it really is a joy to work on.
Strathmore Bristol Board
Attributes: Vellum has dimpled textured, high quality, acid-free
Bristol board isn’t actually board, it’s paper. The 400 series is a type of high quality, thick paper. In this pad, you get 15 sheets which at a size of 11×14″ is currently around £14 or $20, which is quite reasonable for artist quality paper.
Vellum and smooth describe the finish of the paper. Vellum is the better choice for coloured pencil, as it has tooth that grabs onto the dry coloured binder. It’s better too for producing even shading.
Bristol Board is multimedia paper, so it can be used with soft pastel, graphite and charcoal. The 400 series is tape bound and paper peels off smoothly.
Attributes: toothy, thick, archival, velvety soft
This paper is 260gsm, so is thick and durable. It’s made for use with pastel and coloured pencil.
The surface has a luxurious feel to it, almost velvety. This makes it perfect for blending. Because the paper is has tooth, it will hold multiple layers of colour. Don’t use this paper with wet media like watercolour pencils.
The soft nature of the paper makes it gentle on blending tools.
Attributes: toothy, extra thick, archival, soft, acid-free
Pastelmat is another strong favourite amongst pastel and colour pencil artists. Like the Hahnemühle Velour paper, it is fairly soft, so you can blend with brushes or tortillions with ease. The softness is a huge advantage, as it won’t wear down pencil tips as quickly as some of the more textured papers.
It is a premium paper, with card-like thickness at 360gsm. The paper is water resistant, so you can use it with watercolour, acrylic or gouache too.
When using soft wax or oil pencils, usually artists will seal their work with a fixative to protect it. Sometimes, artists will apply a fixative between layers to better render sharp details. However, due to the surface texture, Pastelmat reduces this need for a fixative. Produce intricate details without worrying about colours blurring or blending into previous layers.
Sennelier Pastel Paper
Attributes: large range of colours, coarse texture
This pastel paper is the thickness of card (350gsm) and has a coarser texture than other papers on this list. On the surface, there is a layer of fine cork particles, which gives it its surface texture. This makes it less suited to fine detail work, but good for using pencils such as Caran D’Ache Pastel Pencils and creating thicker more painterly effects.
There is less need to use fixative with this paper between layers. You may find yourself having to sharpen pencils more often with this paper, due to the texture.
The paper isn’t water resistant, so it shouldn’t be used with water based media. Use it with soft pencils or pastels.
Attributes: cheap in price, ribbed texture, lightweight
100gsm is thin for a pastel paper, however the paper is durable. If you anticipate that you’ll be making sketches without layers or burnishing and want something less expensive, this could be a good choice.
Attributes: rigid, soft toothy texture
Pastel board is pastel paper mounted on a thick board. It makes for a rigid surface that can be propped up with an easel. If you prefer working at an angle, or at an easel then this could be a good choice. Plus, board makes artwork easier to transport.
This board is acid-free, archival quality. Plus, the texture is beautiful, with the right balance of tooth and smoothness. Pigments look vibrant when applied to this board.
Attributes: rigid, unique grain, durable
It’s possible to draw on wood with coloured pencil. Wood is a rigid, robust and durable support for art media like oil, acrylic and wax.
It adds a new dimension to coloured pencil artwork and opens up new framing and presentation options. Buy a cradled wooden panel, and you can hang it straight away. Wood that has been prepared properly (sealed then gessoed), will be able to take multiple layers of pigment and withstand applications of solvent.
Many artist grade wooden panels come primed already, like this one by Ampersand.
Best paper for coloured pencils: Pin it!
Art tutorials: Further reading
The blocking-in technique is used as the very first step in the painting process by many artists. Learn how to use this method to start your painting.
Learn how to restore the colours in your oil painting and prevent ‘sinking in’.
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